Are There Laws Concerning Cell Phone Use?

Sherry Holetzky

The most common and perhaps the most important laws concerning cell phone use are those related to using a handheld cell phone while driving. These laws protect the safety of other motorists, as well as the driver, since people often become distracted when using a cell phone while trying to drive. New York was the first state in the U.S. to implement such laws in 2001. As of 2006, it was reported that over 40 countries have some type of legislation that either restricts or completely forbids the use of cell phones while driving.

Cell phone use while driving has been linked to causing auto accidents.
Cell phone use while driving has been linked to causing auto accidents.

Studies indicate that distractions and inattention are the main causes of auto accidents. While research concludes that cell phones are not necessarily the worst distraction for drivers, the sheer numbers of cell phone users creates cause for concern. As of early 2006, reports indicated that over 200 million people in the U.S. regularly use cell phones.

Some states now make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving.
Some states now make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving.

The dangers are obvious. Not only does a driver have to look at the phone instead of the road in order to dial, but many people also get involved in animated conversations, which can hinder attention to driving. Even laws that restrict handheld cell phones but allow hands-free devices may not be stringent enough, since the distraction caused by engaging in conversation is not lessened by using a hands-free unit. It is also reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that hands-free cell phone users have to redial nearly twice as often as those with handheld phones.

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Even limiting phone usage to stoplights can cause trouble.
Even limiting phone usage to stoplights can cause trouble.

The intent may be to create greater safety in regard to cell phone use while driving, but there are other issues in play as well. In today’s litigious world, people have learned to blame companies for such accidents, since businesses generally have deeper pockets and more insurance coverage than individuals. Lawsuits have been filed naming companies whose employees are at fault for accidents that occurred while using a cell phone for company business.

Manufacturer liability may also become a serious issue. The idea has been suggested in the North Dakota Law Review. The premise is that if manufacturers fail to warn cell phone users of the dangers while driving, they too may be held liable for accidents.

Conversations on cell phones can hinder attention to driving.
Conversations on cell phones can hinder attention to driving.

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